The traditions and festivals of Himachal Pradesh have remain hidden and unknown to common people in the state in particular and visitors who come here in large number every year from all over the country and different regions of world. This culturally rich state has numerous festive occasions’ and rituals that remain hidden in the hinterlands of the hill state.
Let us explore different festivals of Himachal Pradesh so that next time, you plan a visit to this region, you know precisely where to head and what to explore apart from the usual tourist towns of Shimla, Kullu- Manali and Dharamshala.
Kullu Dusshera Festival
Among the different festivals of Himachal Pradesh, Kullu Dusshera festival features in the prominent list. This is one of the most significant festivals that is held in the state and has been granted the status of international fair.
Prominently held in Dhalpur Ground in Kullu town, the Kullu Dusshera festival is being celebrated since seventeenth century. It is said that the then King of Kullu Raja Jagat Singh sought blessings from Lord Ragunath and penance for any wrong act that he might have committed.
This fair begins on the occasion of Vijyadashmi or Dusshera every year. The Kullu Dusshera festival continues for seven days thereafter and deities from all over the district participate in the festivities. The sight of deities being carried by devotees attired in their traditional costumes and accompanied by traditional music players is a sight worth capturing both in the mind and the camera alike.
Historic perspective of Kullu Dusshera
It is said that after a pilgrimage, Maharishi Jamdagini was returning to his ashram at Malana. He carried a basket on his head which had images of eighteen different Gods. When he was around the Chandarkhani Pass, a fierce storm blew by. The storm was so strong that the basket was thrown away from his head and the idols of Gods got scattered at different locations.
The people of mountains later saw that these images took the form of Gods. Thus, worshipping of these idols began in the hills of Kullu region.
Later during the 16th century, Kullu was ruled over by Raja Jagat Singh. The king came to know that a person named Durgadutta was in possession of beautiful pearls. Lured by the news, the king wished that he should get all these pearls.
However, the king was unaware that these were not gold or diamond pearls but instead were pearls of knowledge and wisdom. Durgadutta was scared of the King and instead jumped into a well of fire. However, before doing so, he cursed the King and said that the king would not be able to eat and drink and food and water would look like worms and blood to the king.
The King went to a learned Brahmin who told that to get over the curse the King had to bring the idol of Lord Ragunath to Kullu. The King thus sent the Brahmin to Ayodhya to get the idol to Kullu. The Brahmin was able to somehow steal the idol and carry it back.
However, as the Brahmin was about to cross the Saryu river, locals caught him. They asked him as to why he was taking the idol of Lord Ragunath with him. The Brahmin told them the entire story but the locals were adamant of taking the idol back. However, when they tried to carry it to the Ayodhya side, the idol would become heavy and could not be carried. When it was carried to the opposite side, it moved with ease. The people then understood that it was God’s will that the idol of Lord Ragunath be taken to Kullu.
When the idol was brought to Kullu finally it was installed as the presiding deity of the region. The King sought blessings from the deity and his curse was lifted. To this date, Lord Ragunath is worshipped in Kullu and is held in high esteem by all.
On the auspicious occasion of Kullu Dusshera Festival, the idol of Lord Ragunath is carried and pulled in a chariot. This symbol of the chariot of Lord Ragunath by the devotees has become a key landmark of the entire festivities and the Dusshera is considered among important festivals of Himachal Pradesh. It has been declared an international festival by the Government of Himachal Pradesh. The month of October and the occasion of Kullu Dusshera festival is definitely a great time to be in the Land of Gods and every year a large number of people come to Himachal Pradesh during this period.
Losar festival in Himachal Pradesh
People who have Tibetan ethnicity and have been born and brought up in Himachal Pradesh celebrate Losar with utmost festivity and dedication. Losar is celebrated for over a period of fifteen days during the month of February every year. However, the pinnacle of Losar can be seen and felt from February 24th to February 26th every year.
This festival is celebrated to commemorate beginning of agricultural activities in the tribal regions of the state. Historically, Losar is celebrated to commemorate initiation of blossoming in the apricot trees in the upper regions of Himachal Pradesh. The marking of new year is also associated with different festivities of Losar.
In lower Himachal region, you can see the festivities of Losar in Dharamshala. The town is home to HH The Dalai Lama and many of this followers. They celebrate the festival with traditional fervour and much fanfare. The traditional Cham dance is also organized on this occasion, a feel of which you can also get in the tribal district of Lahaul and Spiti which has a fair number of people following Buddhism.
For the beverage lovers, this is the best time to get a taste of the traditionally prepared Chang.
Halda Festival in Himachal Pradesh
Halda Festival in Himachal Pradesh is also listed on priority list among festivals of Himachal Pradesh. This festival is celebrated on the occasion of Magh Purnima and if you are witnessing it for the first time, you could well end up being confused if Deepawali is being celebrated. This two day grand festival is mostly celebrated in the tribal district of Lahaul and Spiti.
Bonfire, music and dance form the core of the festivities associated with Halda, one of the premier festivals of Himachal Pradesh celebrated in the tribal region. Rituals are also associated with this festival and even in this modern era of gadgets and online world,Halda Festival in Himachal Pradesh is celebrated with religious fervour.
Every household in the village has to bring twigs of cedar which are lit and people gather in a circle. These burning twigs are then thrown into the fire. This festival is a testimony to the harmony that prevails among the villagers, even in this era of modernization.
This festival is celebrated in Gahar, Pattan and Chandra valley region of the district. In the Pattan valley, the Halda festival is celebrated on the occasion of Magh Purnima. Mostly these festivities are held during second and third week of January. As the district of Lahaul and Spiti used to remain aloof from the world for six months due to closure of Rohtang Pass, little was known to the outside world about the festival and its significance.
However, now with the opening of Atal Tunnel in manali, these lesser known secrets of the valley will be known to all and the age old festivals of Himachal Pradesh which were hidden somewhere in theshadowy mist of mountains will now be unfolded for everyone.
This festival begins on a full moon day and is almost considered alike to Diwali because of its significance for the tribal people, a fact that I have highlighted previously too. This festival is dedicated to Shishkar Apa, who is said to be the wealth of Goddess in ancient Buddhist scriptures.
An interesting fact associated with Halda Festival in Himachal Pradesh is that the lamas choose a dedicated place to hold the festivities and a massive bonfire is lit at the place.
Appeasement of local Gods is sought through festivals like Halda and people pray that they get better crop in the coming summer season. They also pray that evil forces also remain away from them. In ancient scriptures, it has always been mentioned that Gods or deities go to heavenly abode during harsh winter months. During these months evil spirits take over the place. This festival is also an apt occasion to make Gods come back to the region and ward away any evil spirits and the ill effects that they might have on the population in the region.
The festivities also provide an occasion to the villagers to forget the hard days of winter months and welcome the coming spring season when life would return to normal in this tribal region of Himachal Pradesh.
This is one of the important festivals of Himachal Pradesh that is celebrated in the tribal district of Kinnaur. The main intent of the festival is to appease the Gods so that they keep their hand on the people, all the while and protect them from any hardships.
Bathing in Sutlej River is one of the important rituals that is followed during Sazo Festival. Those who are not able to go to Sutlej instead bathe in any ho water spring that is available nearby. This is done to cleanse the body and soul before being part of the religious festivities of Sazo which is one of the key festivals of Himachal Pradesh
On the occasion of Sazo, traditional feast in prepared by the families across the region. You could find traditional items like chiltas, poultice, meat and pug on this occasion in every household. A local ritual by the name of deacher or deokhel is also performed on this day. The local pundit or priest goes to every household on this occasion and blesses the households.
Worshipping of the deities is also done on the pious occasion of Sazo. The gods and deities are worshipped in the morning hours where food is offered to the Gods. The deity is brought out from the house during the evening hours and worshipped again. The entire village wears a festive look on this occasion and Sazo is an important festival for people of Kinnaur district. The good thing here is that even the new age youth have adopted this tradition well and can be seen attired in their traditional best on the festive occasion.
When to visit Himachal Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh can be visited at any time of the year. While the Kullu valley and Dharamshala region in Kangra is accessible the year around, it is bit difficult to access the higher reaches. Kinnaur can also be approached at any time though some temporary restrictions might occur, if heavy snowfall takes place.
The Lahaul region of tribal district of Lahaul and Spiti was inaccessible during winter months till the last year. However, with opening of Atal Tunnel, the region is now accessible, the year round with some temporary restrictions in place when heavy snowfall occurs.
It is not advisable to travel during monsoon months as landslides might occur without any caution often catching people on the wrong foot.
How to Reach Himachal Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh is well connected by Rail, Road and Air Routes. There are three operational airports in the state at Shimla, Kullu and Kangra which cover the entire stretch of the state. You can choose to land at any of these based on the region, you intend to travel in the state.
The state has two narrow gauge rail line and one broad gauge line. While the narrow gauge rail routes are from Pathankot to Joginder nagar in Mandi and Kalka to Shimla, the broad gauge route extends from Delhi to Una in Himachal Pradesh.
The state has well connected Road Network that extends to the international boundaries of China and connects people from the state to the other regions of India.
Travel to the region and explore festivals of Himachal Pradesh. You will definitely see a new colour of the state, unheard and unseen till now!